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We Grown sprouts hope

Though no one expects a love letter to one of the nation’s worst examples of public housing, the movie We Grown Now finds good in the sense of community that managed to survive at Chicago’s infamous Cabrini-Green. Historically, the site represents a prime example of failed housing policy. Cinematically, movie fans know the setting as an appropriately spooky place for the first Candyman horror film. In contrast, writer-director Minhal Baig creates a warm coming-of-age project for two boys navigating life and friendship during the 1990s. Opening with a shot moving through dim hallways, suspicious grunting blanket the scene. Baig quickly shifts tones by showing two boys hauling a mattress down a set of steps, the whole effort revealing a world not designed to help people thrive. Perky music sets in to brighten the tone, emphasizing optimism and hope rather than dark possibilities. Keeping the pace languid, Baig introduces main characters Malik and Eric, played with casual ease by Gian Knight-Ramirez and Blake Cameron James. Like the two boys, Baig’s entire cast of unfamiliar faces melds smoothly into roles. Along with finding the right people to populate her story, Baig uses delicate cinematography picking up shadows and light to create a poetic sensibility, repeating many images with a sense of rumination rather than nostalgia. Baig, a Chicago native, also nods her director’s cap to the city’s classic Ferris Bueller’s Day Off when her two heroes ditch school for a trip to the Art Institute. Like Ferris, the two see intrigue in the huge picnic scene “Sunday in the Park at the Grand Jatte.” But with an extra step, they come across a painting called “Train Station,” a work showing the city’s 1930s racism that lives on in the story decades later. The paintings and overall mood create an artistic sensibility for a slow-moving piece that shows the power of friendship and family.

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